The Berkeley-born David Wittman aka DJ Dave is a musical virtuoso skilled in composing, drumming, DJing, rhyming and producing. The Hollywood Reporter and New York Times recently featured articles on his viral YouTube song/video "Whole Foods Parking Lot." You're probably one of the 4 million people (and counting) who have seen it or shared it online. Though he's been making music since grade school, he's been so busy producing for others that he never pursued his own solo projects. Over the last dozen years, he's composed songs for hundreds of commercials and several film scores working in a Westside Recording Studio. His old friends know he's like Pete Rock -- a well-respected producer that rhymes well when called upon -- but solo projects? They've never been his focus. He's won Cannes Lions for his scoring work and remixed "Whatever Lola Wants" for the Pepsi ad featuring David Beckham. But it took a volatile afternoon in the Whole Foods parking lot for him to write his own song."This Busters on his iPhone talking to his friends / Picking up some cayenne pepper for his master cleanse."
That's DJ Dave, doing what he does. The song is comprised of consecutive one-liners à la Richard Pryor or George Carlin. Dave wrote the lyrics, rapped it, produced it, recorded it and shared it with some cohorts. "I sent around the mp3 of 'Whole Foods' to friends and family, these guys responded. 'Let's shoot a video,'" he says. Those guys were George Woolley, Jake Pushinsky, and Pedram Torbati, all professional industry individuals, glad to work with Dave on something of their own rather than their typical paid industry work. They got together with Dave and made a plan. They formed Fog & Smog, a production company with that clever name because they are all from L.A. and the Bay.
He describes the day they began filming: "Peddy picked me up to go get a camera, and got us up on the roof at Tomas Burger for a wide shot. George helped block out locations and shoot it all. Jake did the editing and weighed in on creative production decisions. The next day, another homie Ben Malbrough rolled through, and then DJ Spider. My long time DJ/ composer, buddy and confidant Ben Kahle was the 'phone guy.' We all got together, and what came out of it was the video to 'Whole Foods Parking Lot.'" The video's success is because of their collective vision. All the pieces came together perfectly: the combination of filming on location, comical lyrics and slick musical production. The infectious chorus rides over a buoyant hip hop beat:
"It's getting REAL in the Whole Foods Parking Lot
You know the DEAL with the little shopping carts they got
Check out what I say, it happens every day
It's how we live on the west side of L.A ."
Released in late June 2011, "Whole Foods Parking Lot," now has 4 million views on YouTube. The video's success led Hyundai to book Fog & Smog for a spin-off commercial now airing nationally. Dave captured the zeitgeist of L.A.'s Westside consumer culture. Never claiming to be above it, he acknowledges his own place among it all. "Damn, I'm about to check out/ Pay my 80 bucks for 6 things and get the heck out."
Fog & Smog followed "Whole Foods Parking Lot" with "Yoga Girl." That video taps into the same spirit regarding Westside New Age culture that propelled "Whole Foods Parking Lot." Dave's rhymes are equally slapstick: "We could hit up Rawvolution or the Urth Café/Have a vegan cookie and talk about your day." Filmed on location in Santa Monica, there's another MC that joins him as well as several yoga girls responding to him sarcastically in rhyme. The video is now close to 900,000 views. There have been two other Fog & Smog videos after "Yoga Girl," "Berkeley Enough," and "Put Your Phone Down," both with several hundred thousand views.
Dave's musical roots date back to grade school in Berkeley. "I took some piano as a young kid," he says "maybe five or six years old, but it was at a music and arts camp in northern California called Cazadero (near Mendocino County) where things first really took hold. There were a number of drum sets around and getting on those drum kits just felt so damn exciting. It was like sneaking into the cockpit of a fighter jet."
Dave practiced through elementary school. "My parents made me practice on a little practice pad and take weekly lessons for a year before they'd get their 11 year-old his own drum-set. Also at that camp in the '80s, there was a kitchen worker, couldn't have been more than 15 [years old] named Dave Elliot. He had turntables and a mixer, and would DJ the 'camp dances.' Hip Hop was in this really exciting place where b-boy culture was surging through the west coast. Breaking, the music, and watching him scratch sold me. I was in. He later went on to be the DJ for Digital Underground. From then on, those were my two axes. Drums and DJing."
Dave's lyrical skills trace back to Berkeley. "There was this series of rap songs I did with my friend Gaby Alter back in our Jewish elementary school days, early 80's. Gaby wrote a Ronald Reagan rap too, which had undertones of nuclear holocaust fears. We would plug in a mic and put on 'Tour de France' by Kraftwerk, or 'Beat Box' by Art of Noise or 'Axel F' by Harold Faltemeyer, and rap over them, [then] record to cassette."
Dave attended Berkeley High where he played in the venerated jazz group led by Charles Hamilton. "Getting into the jazz group changed my life," he says. "Listening to recordings became instantly important, doing your research, learning as much as you could." He began collecting vinyl records and got obsessed with discovering who his favorite hip hop artists were sampling, especially old jazz. His love of A Tribe Called Quest led him to Grant Green and Roy Ayers. He began DJing house parties. "I think my first memories were how many times can I play 'Gangsta Gangsta' by N.W.A. before folks start saying it was too much?"
Dave reminisces about growing up in Berkeley in, well, "Berkeley Enough." Dave trades rhymes with Lae Charles -- a well-respected Berkeley MC that made his own response song/video to Dave's "Whole Foods Parking Lot." They corresponded and decided to make a song together. The crux of the song involves Lae questioning Dave's Berkeley credentials, "DJ Dave, you not Berkeley enough." Dave replies, "What you mean dude? I told before, you know I eat organic food."
Back and forth over a thumping beat trading bars and barbs in a variety of iconic Berkeley locales like Hotdog on a Stick, Telegraph Avenue, Dave's dad's porch, Berkeley high school and Oakland Airport. Dave declares he's Berkeley enough even though he's lived in LA for 20 years. "Yo man, my girl went to Berkeley High too man, come on dude." The trumpet player in the video is their mutual friend Stephen Bradley.
Dave arrived as a freshman at UCLA in the Fall of 1992, the same year I enrolled. When I met him, he was DJing house parties for the heads and DJing weddings, bar mitzvahs and quinceaneras in small apartments, Westside mansions, frat parties and underground warehouses. He also played drums for the UCLA Jazz band. Eventually we were roommates our fourth year and very active in a community of musicians, DJ's, dancers, poets and painters. Everybody got together over records.
Dave reflects: "That was such a great time in hip hop. I used to bring every single record I owned to every party. That was a serious endeavor, like moving an apartment! I've always loved playing the 12" of 'Oh My God' by Tribe. It's got this really hot (loud/solid) mix, and would cut in good, crunchy drums. Just popped. Such a great song, and that intro with Q-Tip saying, 'wh-pish, wh-pish, pish.' That was always fun at parties."
As a producer he's equally adept at creating hip hop, electronica, nu-jazz, downtempo, dub step, he's a studio wizard. Nonetheless he's also a natural performer. "You always take a chance when you play a note in public. DJing for a crowd, a party, or playing drums out somewhere, there's no substitute. It has to do a lot with community; that excitement and synergy."
The success of the videos, have led to Dave performing the songs live, including opening up for Bay Area icon Too Short and a pre-Oscar party. The Fog & Smog crew have been covered on KCRW, the Oakland Tribune, Mercury News and L.A. news segments. They have more song/videos in the works including one called "Mixologist," parodying the current craze of Westside high-end bars. Dave and Lae Charles have also made shirts that say "Berkeley Enough." The proceeds from the sales are being donated to their respective high school music programs. As Dave says in the song, "Now I'm Older:" "The first place may never be found, but I remember how we used to put it down."